The first step in becoming a pilot is to select a type of aircraft. FAA rules for obtaining a pilot’s certificate differ depending on the type of aircraft flown. Individuals can choose among airplanes, gyroplanes, weight-shift, helicopters, powered parachutes, gliders, balloons, or airships. A pilot does not need a certificate to fly ultralight vehicles.
A student pilot is one who is being trained by an instructor pilot for his or her first full certificate, and is permitted to fly alone (solo) under specific, limited circumstances. Before a student pilot may be endorsed to fly solo, that student must have a Student Pilot Certificate. There are multiple ways that an aspiring pilot can obtain their Student Pilot Certificate. The application may be processed by an FAA inspector or technician, an FAA-Designated Pilot Examiner, a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), or an Airman Certification Representative (ACR). If the application is completed electronically, the authorized person will submit the application to the FAA’s Airman Certification Branch (AFS-760) in Oklahoma City, OK, via the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). If the application is completed on paper, it must be sent to the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), who will forward it to AFS-760. Once the application is processed, the applicant will receive the Student Pilot Certificate by mail at the address provided on the application.
The aforementioned process will become effective on April 1, 2016. The new certificate will be printed on a plastic card, which will replace the paper certificate that was issued in the past. The plastic card certificate will not have an expiration date. Paper certificates issued prior to the new process will still expire according to the date on the certificate; however, under the new process, paper certificates cannot be renewed. Once the paper certificate expires, the Student Pilot must submit a new application under the new process. Another significant change in the new process is that flight instructors will now make endorsements for solo privileges in the Student Pilot’s logbook, instead of endorsing the Student Pilot Certificate.
To be eligible for a Student Pilot Certificate, the applicant must:
- Be at least 16 years of age (14 years of age to pilot a glider or balloon).
- Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.
Medical Certification Requirements
The second step in becoming a pilot is to obtain a medical certificate (if the choice of aircraft is an airplane, helicopter, gyroplane, or an airship). (The FAA suggests the individual get a medical certificate before beginning flight training to avoid the expense of flight training that cannot be continued due to a medical condition.) Balloon or glider pilots do not need a medical certificate, but do need to write a statement certifying that no medical defect exists that would prevent them from piloting a balloon or glider. The new sport pilot category does not require a medical examination; a driver’s license can be used as proof of medical competence. Applicants who fail to meet certain requirements or who have physical disabilities which might limit, but not prevent, their acting as pilots, should contact the nearest FAA office. Anyone requesting an FAA Medical Clearance, Medical Certificate, or Student Pilot Medical Certificate can electronically complete an application through the FAA’s MedXPress system available at https://medxpress.faa.gov/.
A medical certificate is obtained by passing a physical examination administered by a doctor who is an FAA-authorized AME. There are approximately 6,000 FAA-authorized AMEs in the nation. To find an AME near you, go to the FAA’s AME locator at www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator/. Medical certificates are designated as first class, second class, or third class. Generally, first class is designed for the airline transport pilot; second class for the commercial pilot; and third class for the student, recreational, and private pilot. A Student Pilot Certificate can be processed by an FAA inspector or technician, an FAA Designated pilot examiner (DPE), an Airman Certification Representative (ACR), or a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). This certificate allows an individual who is being trained by a flight instructor to fly alone (solo) under specific, limited circumstances and must be carried with the student pilot while exercising solo flight privileges. The Student Pilot Certificate is only required when exercising solo flight privileges. The new plastic student certificate does not have an expiration date. For airmen who were issued a paper certificate, that certificate will remain valid until its expiration date. A paper certificate cannot be renewed. When the paper certificate expires, a new application must be completed via the IACRA system, and a new plastic certificate will be issued.
Student Pilot Solo Requirements
Once a student has accrued sufficient training and experience, a CFI can endorse the student’s logbook to authorize limited solo flight in a specific type (make and model) of aircraft. A student pilot may not carry passengers, fly in furtherance of a business, or operate an aircraft outside of the various endorsements provided by the flight instructor. There is no minimum aeronautical knowledge or experience requirement for the issuance of a Student Pilot Certificate, however, the applicant must be at least 16 years of age (14 years of age for a pilot for glider or balloon), and they must be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language. There are, however, minimum aeronautical knowledge and experience requirements for student pilots to solo.